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Painting the New Year


  Text and photographs by Li Shuanxi

  Its name alone, Yangliuqing (literally "Green Willow" in Chinese), stimulates the imagination. But how does this western suburb of Tianjin Munici pality really resonate with its residents and visitors? In my opinion, a place with such a beautiful name should offer similarly stunning scenery to match: Perhaps covered in mist and rain, a time-honored town is painted with willows and emerald rivers with ferries gliding along them. With a history of more than l,000 years, it was lready a North China folk art center during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644~1911) dynasties. The tiny town is the birthplace of several folk arts such as Yang liuqing nianhua (New Year pictures, one of China´s four greatest woodblock painting styles), Yangliuqing kites, and paper cutting. According to historical records. the town has been famous for centuries, not only For its folk art, but also for hosting many cultural landmarks such as theaters, memorial archways, and pavilions. Surviving evidence of the town´s past prosperity includes ancient schools, temples, and the magnificent Shi Family Courtyard.

   How do the town´s 21st century appearance and New Year pictures compare with those in its glory days? With this question in mind, I boarded a bus. It was a rainy day, and the drizzle was keeping my spirits low. After bumping along a country road for some time, I finally arrived at the town, which turned out to be quite different from what I had imagined after reading about it in books. Over the years, it changed so much that even willows were hard to find. I was disappointed. Could this possibly be the same place that earned such widespread fame?

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